I’ve not done a seven questions before, but as I have a great Bury contact it seemed appropriate to do one now.
The excellent Bury Me in Exile isn’t just about the Shakers, but offers superb insight to League Two as well. He’s well worth a follow on Twitter, @burymeinexile and I go as far as to recommend that you give him that follow. I don’t recommend a lot, but along with Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) he does some great stuff on League Two.
You’ll find me featuring on his site this week and you’ll find his inciteful answers to my rather generic questioning below. Anyone would think I’d chucked those questions together in thirty seconds between recording a podcast and eating chips.
1. What’s the secret behind the resurgence this season?
The togetherness of the whole group, including the non-football and backroom staff. You didn’t have to be an expert on psychology to see that the atmosphere around the club was extremely toxic. Ryan Lowe was kept on as manager by former chairman Stewart Day, which was not necessarily a universally popular decision at the time. However, you could tell by some of his post-match interviews whilst caretaker that he’d be doing his utmost to move on certain individuals who he considered disruptive to the harmony in the dressing room.
There are still perhaps one or two players held over from last season that performed woefully (Phil Edwards and Stephen Dawson), but they’ve barely had a look in. Lowe has proven to be someone not apt to making wholesale changes to his starting XI, even if a particular player has performed badly; a recent example of this is when he took Chris Stokes off almost immediately after scoring an own goal in the MK Dons thriller, where he’d be culpable for all three of the visitors’ strikes in some form or another. However, the very next game at Forest Green, he was back in the side, and rewarded his boss with what many considered to be a man-of-the-match display.
Sometimes, people can read too much into what they see on social media, but it’s evident that the players like each other as people, and do things away from the pitch together. Things like that can be just as important and influential in a season as their collective ability.
2. What are the key elements that make Bury title contenders right now?
Most opposition managers will have a reasonable idea of how Lowe sets his stall out; just like when he was a striker in his playing days, Bury will almost always have a very attacking posture, and a group of forwards that he’s been able to rotate to no small degree of success. Stokes and Will Aimson as the wider centre backs are not quite as adept as playing out from the back as Adam Thompson, but the trio form the first part of the strategy. The ‘extra’ man often joins in the attacks down their flank, and you almost always see five or six bodies ahead of the ball. When you combine that with the ball-carrying ability of people like Danny Mayor and Jay O’Shea, you can understand why it has proven to be quite successful so far; the two strikers are almost never isolated, and the central midfield interchange the ball out wide and back in a patient way.
Whilst Nicky Maynard may be the top goalscorer, the distribution of goals has been very even throughout the team. To have three players already on double figures for the season is almost unheard of at Bury; Mayor (nine) and Byron Moore (eight) are not far away, either, having both added to their tallies in the 5-2 demolition of Oxford United in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday night, a game that saw Maynard and O’Shea both rested with Lincoln in mind. There’s a very distinct possibility that between them all, they’ll get 100 in all competitions this term, something they haven’t managed for nearly 60 years. Essentially, it’s very difficult to keep a clean sheet against the Shakers because the threats are numerous.
3. In terms of the title race, how do you see it panning out? Who are the major players?
Obviously, Lincoln are at the time writing, and will remain (in my view), the team to beat. Where every other side has had a very distinct bad patch, the Imps’ worst was back in October, when they failed to win in three games… and still drew two of them! There’s a relentlessness about the group, and on the odd occasion they have dropped points, it normally coincides with their nearest rivals doing so. The win at Yeovil on Tuesday has not only cemented their place at the top, but has ensured that their points-per-game ratio remains over two – any side that does that will almost certainly end up champions. Much will rely on their ability to go to the homes of their top seven rivals, something they have to still do no fewer than five times, and stay unbeaten. Drawing every single one of those would still count as successes, as it would ensure they are kept at arm’s length.
I see their most threatening challengers as Mansfield; I didn’t expect it to happen, but under David Flitcroft, they have been consistent in at least not losing matches, suffering defeat just three times (and two of those were this month). You could argue that the budget afforded to him by the Stags’ board should mean that they’re tilting towards the title, but it seldom pans out as smoothly as that. Bringing in the likes of Nicky Ajose and Jorge Grant to a roster that already boats plenty of creativity and firepower has made them the envy of some outfits in the tier above, let alone League Two.
Forest Green can’t be discounted, either. The shocking return of Christian Doidge to their ranks, coupled with the patient, possession-based style of play arguably makes them the best ‘footballing’ side in the division, and in Doidge’s return in addition to the recent purchase of Shawn McCoulsky, they might now have the sole element that was previously missing from the Nailsworth outfit – reliably finishing the chances they create.
I’m not ruling out Bury entirely, but they have to continue improving their away form to have any hope of being crowned champions. MK Dons’ recent form has been woeful, and the potential re-signing of Rhys Healey on loan cannot come quickly enough for Paul Tisdale’s men. I don’t think that alone will solve their problems, given the loss of the talented George Williams to injury.
I always tend to favour the teams that have lost the fewest up to this point in title discussions, hence the lack of mention of Carlisle. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve done superbly to be in the reckoning at the moment, but the tumult of John Sheridan leaving for Chesterfield, as well as the tumult of losing key loan players back to their parent sides in the transfer window, are two grievous blows to how they operate. I still expect Steven Pressley to keep them in the hunt for a play-off spot, though. Colchester, a side I had as dark horses for automatic promotion, are probably too inconsistent to be seriously considered, although on their day, they can take anyone apart.